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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • A Classic Eurogame with a fresh new coat of paint. The new edition looks lovely.
  • As an auction game, player interaction is key to success so it never feels too “heads down”
  • Bidding mechanism is simplified and streamlined so doesn’t hold the game up too much.
  • Lots of replay value here. The base game comes with an expansion and an alternative cooperative style of play as well as the obligatory solo mode.
  • Lovely, tricky decisions to be made from the first turn- yet simple enough to appeal to new players.

Might Not Like

  • If you don’t like bidding as a mechanism this probably isn’t for you.
  • The tetris puzzle aspect of the game is underplayed and possibly could’ve been better developed.
  • Some of the end game Prestige cards seem a little wonky.
Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

Princes of Florence Review

Princes of Florence

I can’t deny it: I am a sucker for a “classic” boardgame. Whether deserving of the term or not, if I hear about a game on the market that is considered a cornerstone of modern gaming, or even just a fondly remembered old favourite, then I am likely to be interested. But, in honesty, I’m not quite as keen on the colours brown or beige as some of the old designers seem to be. So when a new edition of an older game is announced I tend to get very excited indeed, and sure enough, that is what we have here. “Princes of Florence” by Wizzkid Games is a 2023 game that was originally released back in 2000, and aims to bring a fresh, bright new look to the somewhat tired looking original. And if you are one of the many people who, like myself, never got to try the original, then stick around because this is a real gem of a game, and thoroughly deserving of the title Modern Classic.

The Italian Job

Princes of Florence is principally a 2-5 player game where players compete as one of the great Houses of Renaissance Florence, such as the Borgia or Medici, to try to attract the greatest artists and scholars of the region to produce Great works in their honour, for profit and prestige. In order to do this, the players must make their estates as attractive as possible, building around their Palazzo impressive gardens and buildings as well as hiring Jesters to entertain and purchasing important “Freedoms” of the city, such as the freedom of religion or expression. In doing so, players will hopefully inspire the city’s leading thinkers and artists to produce their most impressive, and lucrative, Great Works. But each of these professionals values different elements in order to inspire them to greatness. So over the course of 7 turns, players need to ensure they build up their player boards to match the specific requirements of the professionals they have chosen to invite in order to gain the greatest rewards.

In practice, this means that each turn will be structured in two parts. Initially there is an auction where players will bid on specific items such as Landscape tiles, prestige cards, Builders and Jesters. During the auction, a player can win only one item and only one of each item can be auctioned off in the round, i.e., only one builder, jester or type of landscape tile.

These items will then go on the winning player’s board and will have different effects to aid them with their endeavours. A builder makes buildings cheaper. If you manage to get another one it will help with placing future buildings on the board. Jesters add points to every great work that you produce, and these are cumulative, so can be very useful if you manage to get several of them. Each item for auction is useful but often situationally dependent.

In the second part of the turn, players will have two actions where they can build buildings, purchase freedoms or hire new professional cards. This is also where they can produce Great Works, which is how the game provides money for future auctions and points to win the game.

Florins in the Machine

The key to success in Princes of Florence is to balance your production of Florins, the game’s currency, with your production of points. At the end of the game, money is worth nothing except as a tie-break, however, without a steady supply of cash, you will struggle to win auctions or purchase the items you need to gain more.

Each player will start with a hand of three Profession cards from a deck of 21. Each profession is unique and has a number of criteria they need to produce their Works, including a specific type of Landscape and Freedom (of which there are three each) and Building preference. The presence of these increases the points of the Great Work they produce. Players will try to fill their player boards with the right kind of items to match their professions so that when they chose to play the card and produce a masterpiece, they will have the maximum points.

As an example, the Botanist appreciates a Park landscape, Freedom of Religion and a Laboratory building present in the players Estate. While none of these are essential, and it is entirely possible to produce a work without any of them early in the game, the presence of these increases the points value of the work produced. The more matching elements you have, along with the player’s jesters, means other profession cards and bonus cards will all add up to give the best works value. A professional cannot produce another great work for the same player so it is wise to maximise the benefit of each.

Once played, Great Works provide an amount of points and/or money dependent on the value. So for every point of the great work, the player can choose to receive 100 florins. Alternatively, they can take 1 victory point for every two of the great works points, or a combination of the two. Hence a great work played for a value of 12 could give 1200 florins, or 600 florins and 3 victory points or any combination in between.

Bonus cards can be purchased as part of the players action and will add additional value as a one-off bonus when played with a great work. For example, giving an extra point for every jester and builder a player has. Multiple cards can be played together to get a maximum pay out for a great work.

So, canny players will delay on playing great works to maximise the value of each card played. However, there is a catch. Each turn there is a minimum value to works played. In the first round this is 7 whereas in the last round, it is 17. Delay too long on a work and it is possible to not be able to make the minimum work value and all of your collecting will have been wasted. The most successful players are those who manage to create a steady engine of points and florins through their works and don’t delay too long. Especially as the 21 profession cards available is not that many - especially in higher player count. In a 5 player game, 15 cards are already dealt out in the first round, making profession cards one of the more valuable resources in the game.

Homes Under the Hammer

While Princes of Florence has all the makings of a standard Eurogame, it is the auction element which elevates it to the realm of Modern classic.

As with the best auction games, while the aim is to ostensibly gain the item you want for as low a price as possibly, in practice the auction at the beginning of each round tends to be a more cagey, if not downright sneaky, affair.

The first player each round will set out which item is up for auction and start the bidding at 200 florins. Then each player in turn will either withdraw or increase the bid by 100 florins until someone wins the item. If it isn’t won by the first player, they get to choose something else. So you could simply offer up something you really need and bid on it. That works. But you will pay through the nose for it. Then again, players can only bid on one item per round and once they win they are out of the auction. If you are last in the round, you can often get something far cheaper, as no one is left to bid against you. So why not put something up that you are certain everyone else will want and then sit back and watch the fireworks. Maybe even throw in a cheeky bid to inflate the cost a little… And maybe it will all blow back in your face and you end up paying far too much for something you didn’t want in the first place. And here is the kicker: there are only 7 turns in the game. Only 7 auctions. So getting something you don’t need…hurts. The auction is there to turn a simple game of set collection into a psychological test of brinksmanship that you will probably lose. But still go back for more.

The Prince of Brownness

So for those who are familiar with the older version of the game, maybe even own a copy, how does the new version differ from the first game and is it worth upgrading? Well in terms of rules there is very little alteration to the game. The main difference here is the aesthetic of the game, which is markedly brighter and more vivid than it’s predecessor and the components, from wooden pieces to cardboard tiles, are all given a much-needed upgrade. The changes are not purely cosmetic however, as the move away from muddy, brown boards and pieces is also helpful when playing to distinguish the various pieces and building tiles. This is particularly helpful when choosing pieces for auction or when glancing at an opponent’s player board to see what they may need.

In addition to washing away the brown, the 2023 edition also includes the Muse and the Princess Expansion in the main box. This allows players to use special characters such as the Banker and Cardinal with additional one-use powers to add some variety to the auction process. What is nice here is that players can choose different characters each turn (assuming they win another auction, of course!) so everyone gets the benefit of the different powers if they want, rather than having to stick to one character chosen at the beginning of the game.

There is also an additional mode, the Cooperative Building expansion, which allows players to create shared building spaces, giving a more interactive experience. While players still work towards an individual win, there is an element of mutual benefit and cooperation to building that some players might enjoy.

Overall, the new edition represents really good value for money, and with the expansions added in to the main box it would be a worthwhile upgrade even for players who own the original.

Italian Masterpiece?

Princes of Florence is a simple yet fiendish puzzle which has managed to charm everyone I’ve played it with, even my partner who is somewhat sceptical of Auction games usually. Part of the reason is the simplicity of the game design. Although there is a superficial Tetris-puzzle feel to this, it isn’t really the purpose of the game - there are no points for covering your board or having certain combinations of buildings as you might find in polyomino games, but it is still satisfying slotting your pieces on the board and grabbing some points for the privilege.

But for me, the main pleasure is undoubtedly in the auction phase, and the opportunity to mess with your opponents, attempting to out-manoeuvre them before a Florin is even spent. Mostly, I am really bad at this and it usually blows up in my face, but I keep coming back for more. The beauty of Princes of Florence, though, is that it’s a simple game that makes you feel smart. Too many modern games seem to go out of their way to create complex systems and mechanics just to make you feel pretty dumb or at least highly inefficient. It’s also fairly quick to play. A 3 player game will be around 90 minutes, and while higher player counts may be longer it won’t feel like it is. Like the best games, Princes of Florence will leave you wishing you’d had one more turn.

So is it perfect? No undoubtedly not. The way in which the Professional cards are provided means that there is a high level of luck. If you end up with three cards that happen to share a number of different requirements in the beginning of the game you are likely to have a much better time of it than someone with a random set of professionals with little in common. Similarly, the prestige cards vary in terms of value from around 4 to 8 points. Yet the ease of achieving these doesn’t appear to be linked to the points particularly. As such it is easy to draw a card later on which gives lots of points with little work required and in a game where scoring always seems to be tight, that can be the difference between first and second place. That degree of randomness is mitigated slightly - players always get to pick up 5 cards and choose one, but it can feel a little arbitrary at the end of the game.

But in truth this is a minor concern and for me just adds to the charm. A good player will be able to make allowances for the random cards and take Prestige cards early enough to work for them. Or ignore them and try to build an unassailable lead during the game to make end game scoring less important. While it is too early in my experience of the game to try to talk about dominant strategies, the truth is that there are several ways to succeed in Princes of Florence and none appear to be more prevalent than any other.

A Return Ticket to Florence?

Honestly, I can’t recommend Princes of Florence highly enough. In the 6 months since I bought it, it has been one of my favourites to play with new players and veterans alike, and has quickly risen into my top ten games.

It probably isn’t for everyone, but even for those who may not enjoy Auction games, I suspect there is something of interest here. For everyone else, whether you enjoy bidding or not, I think this is an essential play and, unless I’m mistaken, a new favourite waiting to be discovered.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • A Classic Eurogame with a fresh new coat of paint. The new edition looks lovely.
  • As an auction game, player interaction is key to success so it never feels too heads down
  • Bidding mechanism is simplified and streamlined so doesnt hold the game up too much.
  • Lots of replay value here. The base game comes with an expansion and an alternative cooperative style of play as well as the obligatory solo mode.
  • Lovely, tricky decisions to be made from the first turn- yet simple enough to appeal to new players.

Might not like

  • If you dont like bidding as a mechanism this probably isnt for you.
  • The tetris puzzle aspect of the game is underplayed and possibly couldve been better developed.
  • Some of the end game Prestige cards seem a little wonky.

Zatu Blog

Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

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